Without a doubt, fans of Excite Truck will find the unexpectedly announced ExciteBots: Trick Racing to be a thrill ride. The second Excite title in just under three years improves upon its predecessor in most regards with faster gameplay, extraordinary over-the-top tracks, an updated robotic theme, and unique online play. While some may be wary of a few gameplay oddities or the revamped racing style, it’s safe to say that the Excite series is still without a mediocre title in its 20 plus year history.
What exactly makes ExciteBots so enticing and refreshing to play is its wild gameplay, which relies on a unique level of interaction with tracks in addition to outpacing opponents during races, which separates the game from most in the genre. Where a title like Mario Kart gets the job done through the barraging of other opponents with a multitude of battle items, superb multiplayer, and a finish-as-fast-as-you-can attitude, ExciteBots excels because of its speedy gameplay, frantic jumps and bot maneuvers, and an interactivity with your environment that puts the emphasis on collecting points first and winning second. It’s intuitive gameplay like this that naturally mixes well with the other, more “commonplace” arcade racing mechanics, propelling ExciteBots into a category of its own.
Becoming familiar with all of the ins-and-outs of the title is easy thanks to two approachable control types to guide your Bot. From the get-go, players are asked the option of controlling the game with the Wii Wheel or just the standard horizontal Wii Remote method of play, as the game itself doesn’t come packed with the wheel. Standard Wii racing controls take their shape here, with the 1 button handling brakes, 2 gas, and titling/turning the Remote according to your specified control method. No matter the method you prefer, you will be racing with some of the best steering controls on Wii (an improvement as glaring as night and day compared to the at times over responsive Excite Truck). The only small gripe here is that unlike the original where pressing any which way on the Control Pad would emit your turbo, you must now only press up or down to turbo, which can lead to a bit of a relearning process if you were one who used to press a different direction. It would have been nice if the now unusable left and right buttons could act as a way to change the camera view, as you can neither look behind you or swap out of a third person perspective. Those who became enthusiasts of the no-motion-required methods of control playing Mario Kart Wii are also out of luck here, but as stated, players will waste no time becoming accustomed to the two fine-tuned methods already provided and thankfully motion controls will hinder your gameplay experience in no way, shape, or form.
The transition from Excite Truck to ExciteBots really couldn’t have created a wider gap in terms of how racing gameplay was handled by the developers. The substitution for a more wacky, “arcadey” feel with the inclusion of Bots instead of trucks was a decision that many questioned when the racing title was first announced, but I’m happy to report that the transition works - and by works, I mean everything that made racing with standard trucks in the previous game so much fun has been either exemplified or updated to suit the higher speed and finesse of a Bot. For those still unaware, every Bot in the game resembles a real world animal with its own set of customizable paint jobs and an ulockable special appearance to boot. Every Bot also has its own grip, weight, turbo speed and power statistics to match your own preferences. Most importantly and completely new in ExciteBots is that all Bots have the ability to slightly transform their shape (such as extending a giant arm from its back or running on hind legs for example) depending on what you are encountering during that particular instance, paving the way for fresh gameplay nuances not possible previously.
One of the biggest additions over the previous title are the multiple colored “bars” that each track possesses a handful of. Racing into a red bar for instance will trigger a transformation and force a large mechanical arm to shoot out of your Bot and latch onto the bar, instigating an on-screen cue that tells you to start swinging the Remote in a circular motion in time with your Bot. Synchronizing the timing of your swings with your Bot that is also swinging in in a circle on the red bar will allow you to bolt off of the bar in just a matter of seconds at a lightning fast pace - usually hurling you over a crevice you wouldn’t have been able to jump otherwise. Other types of bars, such as the Elevator, test your reflexes as your Bot’s arm latches onto the horizontal bar, speeds its way up, and challenges you to thrust the Remote at the correct time to go flying off at breakneck speeds. Incorrect timing of your Remote thrust will result in your Bot leaving the bar incorrectly - putting it at a risk for crashing as it spirals its way back down to the ground. All of these instances are a lot of fun and thankfully don’t hinder the fast-paced gameplay the title so heavily feeds off of.
The star system that worked so well in the previous entry is back in ExciteBots, and increased level interaction is what helps drive the system in the title. Each track has its own required star count that players must match in order to progress in the game. Collecting a plethora of stars is your ticket towards progressing further in the title and purchasing unlockables (which I’ll discuss shortly). Stunts such as air, drifts, air spins, smashes, throws, tree runs, jump combos, rings, crashes, and finishing in a top spot will earn you stars during races just like in Excite Truck. But once again, thanks to the updated futuristic Bot overhaul, you and your opponents have the ability to gain stars in a variety of new ways. Not only are tracks loaded with different bars and terrain transformation boxes, but Monster Games has found a way to make acquiring stars even more fun and challenging by adding small mini games into racing gameplay. Tasks like kicking a field goal or goal, or flying through a set of bowling pins are now integrated into different areas in all tracks. Some of the tasks call for a bit more precision than others, such as a task that requires your bot to glide its way through the air collecting butterflies to gather stars, and others could either use a tune-up in controls or don’t quite hold up as well as the others. Even so, no matter how crazy it sounds to complete mini challenges during a race, it actually works for the most part, and rounding up stars has never been quite as engaging or either. Rarely can you say that going through tracks multiple times is a must in a racer to experience everything, but that’s no exaggeration for ExciteBots. It should also be noted that a few power-ups and battle items can be picked up here and there during races, but rarely will you encounter them - this is about as far away from Mario Kart as you can get.
Modes and unlockables are everywhere in the title, and unlocking even a good portion of them will set you back several hours and thousands upon thousands of stars. The Excite Race mode is where you will spend a majority of your time battling computer opponents (still only five of them) and acquiring most of your stars. Also available is an addictive mode where you can play all of the mini games you encounter during races, and even a hilariously difficult poker mode where you must race into cards and build a solid hand of cards to gather points just as it’d be in a real game of poker. The more difficult Super Excite and Mirror modes are back, and an underwhelming local multiplayer mode is as well; it only supports two players with no AI opponents allowed. The newly integrated online mode gives you the option of playing against six friends or random opponents in either a poker or standard race, and players now have even more of an incentive to return again and again with an innovative and rewarding betting feature. With the feature, players can place bets on themselves that will either result in a gain or loss of stars depending on race results. This is easily the easiest and best way to earn stars in the game, but it’s unfortunate that if you’re without a way to connect to the internet purchasing new Bots and colors, online avatars, statues, and more just becomes too long and too much of a chore without the ability to place bets online. Even worse is the total disregard for WiiSpeak functionality, even among friends. However, the game does make use of WiiConnect24 with the ability to send messages and replay data to friends, but it’s ridiculous that when Nintendo does finally release a voice chat add-on to the Wii, they still fail to make use of it.
Although the new animated artistic style matches the futuristic robotic overtone, visually both textures and environments aren’t quite as appealing to the eye as launch title Excite Truck was. Frame rate slowdown also becomes an issue during the occasional jump, especially when many Bots are on-screen at once, but this never elevates to anything more than an occasional hiccup. Sound effects and music are also match the new artistic style, and once again Metroid’s Kenji Yamamoto makes his return in the music department, acting now as music chief. Most musical tracks range from mediocre to pretty enjoyable, and thankfully all of these techno themed tracks are a thousand times better than the generic rock themes featured in the last game. SD card functionality is mysteriously absent in the game, even though Excite Truck was the first Wii title to feature the option. Perhaps Nintendo was more confident in their music efforts this time around?
All in all, you won’t find anything like ExciteBots on today’s market, which is a quite a feat. It’s not easy reinventing and restructuring standard arcade racing mechanics, let alone making it work, but that’s just what happened with the latest from Monster and Nintendo. For a $39.99 suggested retail price, you’re essentially getting more than what you would get in a standard priced racer. It goes without saying that arcade racer fans, Excite Truck fans, most Mario Kart fans and even F-Zero fans alike should all find something to enjoy in the wild, incredibly fast-paced racer. And without any memorable Wii arcade racers on the horizon, it really couldn’t have arrived at a better time.